National shut down on World Aids Day?

South Africa will come to a standstill at noon next Monday if government, the unions, business and civil society pull off the first ever workplace stoppage specifically for World Aids Day.

Former president Nelson Mandela, president Kgalema Motlanthe, his deputy Baleka Mbete, health minister Barbara Hogan, Cosatu president Zwelinzima Vavi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and UNAIDS head,Peter Piot, are among those supporting the campaign.

The planned shutdown for 15 minutes midday on December 1, has been negotiated through National Economic Development and Labour Council and is being driven by the South African National Aids Council, SANAC.

Vavi said: "We have never before called on workers or organised business for a stoppage (on HIV) or had unity of all as expressed through SANAC."

Claire Keeton, for The Times

This is the first time in the history of the HIV epidemic in South Africa that every major sector has united for a common purpose – and the theme is: "Leadership, Unity and Action to Stop HIV."

Vavi said: "The president and deputy president and the health minister are absolutely on board. We are combining to make sure this year we succeed in starting a real campaign."

Preventing mother-to-child transmission

High on the agenda is reducing the number of babies being born with HIV, from some 60000 every year to less than 10000 in three years.

Health minister Barbara Hogan said she was committed to "rapidly scaling up" the national prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission of HIV programme, which still does not reach 40% of pregnant women. (in other words, 60% covered)

Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, said: "This is an absolute call to action as much as 1976 was. We need a mass campaign like we had in the 80s.

"Aids is costing lives and every South African needs to think: Whats my responsibility, whats my goal in facing this catastrophe?"

Naidoo said: "We have a road-map, and we have a very supportive minister …We must build on the heroic efforts of people at the coalface: the doctors, pharmacists, nurses, community workers and activists."

SANAC wants every South African to take action at noon next Monday, starting with a minute of silence.

For example, motorists will be asked to put on their headlights and pull over, and churches have been asked to ring their bells, to remember those who have died, are infected and affected.

Big motor, mining and health companies were among those this week who expressed interest, and support in principle, for the planned 15-minute HIV action, but had yet to decide on its execution.

BMW general manager of occupational health, Dr Natalie Mayet, said that they had already committed to a "shutdown of the plant for an hour where senior leadership will engage with employees on the issue of HIV/AIDS" and offer HIV testing.

This is in line with what the organisers are calling on companies to do.

Questions to ask

Among the questions SANAC urges people to ask themselves during the stoppage are:

Have I tested for HIV? If not, why not?

Have I talked to my family and children about preventing HIV? If not, why not?

Do I understand about HIV medicines and how they work?

How can I stop discrimination?

Mark Heywood, SANAC deputy chairman and Treatment Action Campaign leader, said: "I believe there is going to be an unparalleled demonstration of unity and common purpose. There is no longer an issue on what are the right things to do."

He said: "This is not (intended) as an event in itself. The purpose is to change the mind-set of every South African – we want social mobilisation."

He said SANAC expected December 1 would be the "turning point in stopping HIV infections and deaths" in South Africa.

Mbete, Hogan, Piot and a TAC leader will address a national rally at the Sahara stadium in Durban at midday, which is expected to be covered live by SABC.

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